Sunday, November 22, 2009

TEHRAN | Iran’s military said it will begin large-scale air-defense drills on Sunday, and a cleric in the Revolutionary Guard warned that the Islamic republic would fire missiles at “the heart of Tel Aviv” if attacked.

The war games, due to last five days, are intended to help protect Iran’s nuclear facilities, Iranian media reported, citing Brig. Gen. Ahmad Mighani.

The statements came a day after senior officials from six world powers said they were disappointed Iran had not accepted proposals intended to delay its potential to make nuclear weapons, and urged Tehran to reconsider.

The United States, Russia, China, Germany, Britain and France met after President Obama warned there could be a package of sanctions against Iran within weeks.

The United States and Israel have not ruled out military action if diplomacy fails to resolve the row over Iranian nuclear work that the West suspects is aimed at making bombs.

Iran, which says its nuclear program is solely to generate electricity, has threatened to hit back at Israel and U.S. bases in the Gulf if it is attacked.

“If the enemy should want to test its bad luck in Iran, before the dust from its missiles settles in this country, Iran’s ballistic missiles would land in the heart of Tel Aviv,” said cleric Mojtaba Zolnour, according to the IRNA news agency.

Mr. Zalnour is a deputy of supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei’s representative in the Revolutionary Guard, which will be staging the defense drills together with the regular armed forces.

The drill will cover 230,000 square miles of central, western and southern Iran, Gen. Mighani said.

As Iran has pressed forward with its nuclear program, Israel has repeatedly threatened military action to prevent Tehran from obtaining nuclear weapons. The U.S. also has not ruled out military action should diplomacy fail to resolve the dispute over Iran’s nuclear activities.

Washington and its European allies suspect Iran aims to use a civilian nuclear program as cover to produce weapons, and Iran has effectively rejected a new U.N. proposal aimed at easing those concerns.

The defense drill will involve an attack by airplanes representing a hypothetical enemy.

“Reconnaissance enemy planes will violate our airspace and try to disrupt electronic and radar systems, identify sensitive facilities, take photos and … attack air-defense sites,” Gen. Mighani said, according to a state TV report. “And our air-defense system will confront the intruding planes.”

A planned key component of Iran’s air defenses, an anti-aircraft missile system from Russia, has yet to be delivered.

Gen. Mighani criticized Russia, saying the months-long delay in getting the S-300 missiles was apparently the result of Israeli pressure, not technical issues, as Moscow claims.

Israel and the United States have opposed the missile deal out of fear Iran could use the system to significantly boost defenses at its nuclear sites - including its main uranium-enrichment plant at Natanz.

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